Legal advice: Whose data is it anyway?


Legal advice: Whose data is it anyway?

Pharmacists hold a lot of information about their patients. Indeed, the law requires pharmacists to keep records of every supply of a prescription medicine. There are several broad principles that must be considered in relation to patient data, says Noel Wardle.

Data should:

  • Be held and used fairly and lawfully
  • Be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and should not be further used in any manner incompatible with that purpose
  • Be adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Be accurate and kept up to date
  • not kept for longer than necessary
  • appropriate measures must be in place to prevent unauthorised or unlawful access or use.

Patients should be provided with, or have made readily available to them, the purpose(s) for which the data is intended to be processed. For pharmacy, this usually means having a paragraph about data use in the practice leaflet.

Once patient data has been obtained, a pharmacist is under an obligation to use it where it is necessary or desirable to do so “in order to facilitate the continued care of the patient”. Advice may be backed up by provision of written materials or referral to other sources of advice.

Using information appropriately can bring benefits not only to the patient, but also to the pharmacy. Patients will be better informed about their health and the services available to them, and the pharmacy has an opportunity to promote its services and build patient loyalty.

However, if pharmacists overstep the mark, there can be serious consequences. Care should therefore be taken to ensure that patients are fully informed about how their data will be used, and preferences should be recorded and respected. If in doubt, explicit and informed patient consent should be obtained or advice sought before the data is used.


The above is an overview and we recommend that independent legal advice is sought for your specific concerns.

Noel Wardle is a solicitor and partner in the healthcare team at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP,

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